Ethanol Blends: High Octane, Low Carbon, High Controversy

by Jim Lane, Biofuels Digest For every ethanol blend everywhere these days, there seems to be a war on. A war in India over 22% blends. A war in Brazil over exactly what baseline blend ratio (somewhere int he 20s) is ideal. A war on in Europe to roll back first-gen ethanol to around 2% blending. A war in New South Wales, Australia over whether there should be any ethanol mandating at all. A war in the US as conservatives aim to haul belnding down to 9.7% while ethanol producers have clearly aimed at a 15% baseline blend. And so on and...

Giant Appeals Court Victory For Biofuels

Jim Lane As DuPont’s (DD) Jan Koninckx put it in his understated way, July 28th was “a good day for biofuels.” But it was the biggest victory in the courts for biofuels, ever. Specifically, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of Americans for Clean Energy and other renewable fuels advocates, agreeing with the petitioners that the Environmental Protection Agency erred in how it interpreted and used the “inadequate domestic supply” waiver in the Renewable Fuel Standard law in setting low renewable fuel volumes for 2014-2016. In Americans for Clean Energy et al v. Environmental Protection...

Ethanol and Biodiesel: Production Cost and Profitability

For a number of years, this (now old and outdated, but) very useful chart has been in circulation in energy circles, mapping the supply of energy to the world by looking not at prices, but at production costs. For one thing, it goes a long way to explaining why the price of oil can tumble so quickly when there is a fall off in demand, and explains why OPEC is troubled by unconventional oil in a way it is not so bothered by other energy sources such as renewable fuels. Renewables not only have been traditionally at the...

Icahn’s Pig in a Poke

By Brent Erickson, Biotechnology Innovation Organization Members of the U.S. Senate are questioning whether Carl Icahn’s lobbying to change the Renewable Fuel Standard creates an ethics conflict with his role as advisor in the Trump administration. In addition to the ethics question, Members of Congress and some in the biofuels industry should examine whether Icahn could even deliver on the purported quid-pro-quo even if he wanted to. In late February 2017, Icahn and a biofuel trade association reportedly discussed a presidential executive order to make Icahn’s desired change to the RFS Point of Obligation (the so-called POO) in...

Will Trump Bump, Thump, Or Dump The Renewable Fuel Pump?

Jim Lane  “Trump Reiterates Support for Ethanol, RFS” is the major headline to come out of the National Ethanol Conference in San Diego, which is the Renewable Fuels Association’s annual conflab and as usual produced a flurry of studies, keynotes and statements on the viability and importance of US ethanol to everything from American jobs to advanced American manufacturing. The Trump headline came out of a letter sent to the delegates to the event by President Trump which itself is a hopeful sign of support. But did the President really offer support for the Renewable Fuel Standard?...

Why We Can’t Take Our Eyes Off Gevo

Jim Lane  So, feel the bioeconomy backbeat and let the music flow. AY-YI YI-YA AAAY, Gevo (GEVO) just can’t stop dancin’. (Whoops, that was Becky G‘s Can’t Stop Dancin’, not Gevo’s.) But there’s something so cool in that technology that we can’t take our eyes off the company and its progress, even though looking at the balance sheet can feel like watching a car crash in slow motion. This week, Gevo executed a series of moves including signing up its first direct customer for hydrocarbons for the proposed expansion of its Luverne, Minnesota plant. The highlight was a...

3 Biofuels Reports We Can Ignore, and One We Can’t

Jim Lane This week, in Washington and Brussels, four news flashes on global renewable fuel volumes appeared on the radar. Can you safely ignore them and get on with other work, or is there something to get deeply informed about? Let’s look into it. Ignore This #1. The Point of Obligation RFS Crisis. The issue. Several parties petitioned the US EPA to shift obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard from them to someone else. Basically, to anyone else. The petitioners want relief from buying RINs, thinking about renewables, or experiencing any pain associated with the change...

The Collapse of KiOR

The Inside True Story of a Company Gone Wrong, Part 5 by Jim Lane In 2011, KiOR raised $150 million in its June IPO, claiming that it was generating yields of 67 gallons per ton in its Demo unit operations. But it was miles short of that. In our previous installments, we have charted how KiOR moved from a promising early-stage technology to a public company with serious technological flaws that could have been fixed, but were ignored in what a senior team member speaking for the record, Dennis Stamires, characterized as a “reckless rush to commercial”. By...

EPA Issues On-time, Robust Renewable Fuel Standard For 2017-18

Jim Lane In Washington, the US Environmental Protection Agency released the 2017 renewable fuel volume obligations (and the 2018 volume obligations for biomass-based diesel), with a strong push beyond what has been termed the “blend wall” and stimulating refiners to implement more “cost-effective changes at their refineries to blend more renewable fuel.” The agency finalized a total renewable fuel volume of 19.28 billion gallons, of which 4.28 BG is advanced biofuel and 311 million gallons is cellulosic biofuel. Thus, the implied RVO for conventional biofuels like corn ethanol will be 15BGup from the 14.8 BG proposed in May. “Renewable...

What Trump’s Victory Means For The Bioeconomy

Jim Lane In Washington, Donald Trump captured the US Presidency in an upset victory that confounded pollsters and political pundits even as it delighted supporters of his maverick candidacy based on themes of immigration and trade reform coupled with a message that government policies of the past generation had failed for too many Americans. An unexpected series of wins across US Midwestern states – capturing Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio which had gone for Obama in 2012 – provided a comfortable margin of victory in the Electoral College and the popular vote. 5 Themes Some immediate themes emerge...

The Year Of Living Disingenuously: KiOR

The Inside True Story of a Company Gone Wrong, Part 4 by Jim Lane In 2011, KiOR raised $150 million in its June IPO, claiming that it was generating yields of 67 gallons per ton in its Demo unit operations. But it was miles short of that. In our previous installments, we have charted how KiOR moved from a promising early-stage technology to a public company with serious technological flaws that could have been fixed, but were ignored in what a senior team member speaking for the record, Dennis Stamires, characterized as a “reckless rush to...

Gevo To Supply Lufhansa With Renewable Jet Fuel

Jim Lane   In Colorado, Gevo (GEVO) has entered into a heads of agreement with Lufthansa to supply Gevo’s alcohol-to-jet fuel from its first commercial hydrocarbon facility, intended to be built in Luverne, MN. The terms of the agreement contemplate Lufthansa purchasing up to 8 million gallons per year of ATJ from Gevo, or up to 40 million gallons over the 5 year life of the off-take agreement. Gevo utilized the enthusiasm generated in financial markets yesterday to raise $15.6M in cash and to convert $11M in debt to equity. What the deal means in the short term...

Why Only Ethanol?

Where are butanol and other substitutes for gasoline? Jim Lane A reader writes: I’d hoped that the biofuels crowd would have gotten beyond ethanol by now. The industry has made progress creating all kinds of specialty chemicals from renewable sources and more or less successfully brought them to market. There’s jet and diesel in commercial use whether or not they’re yet profitable. However they have made zero commercial progress on anything other than ethanol for gasoline. All the major advances have involved better and better ways to crank out ethanol. I don’t see the auto industry co-operating...

Gevo: Clever Escape Or Watery Grave

Jim Lane   This week, Gevo (GEVO) reported its Q2 financial results, reaffirmed its guidance on production cost targets, lengthened out the timing on its production targets, and placed all the near-term chips on marine biofuels. Market reaction was generally pretty hateful, with the stock dropping 33% today. Investors seem to have translating Gevo’s messaging thus: Gevo says: We’re staking our near-term prospects on marine biofuels. Investors hear: We’re underwater. Gevo says: Timing delay in our isobutanol gallonage, took longer to get the fixes implemented, we’ll make up on the back side. May need more equipment. Investors hear:...

KiOR: “You’ve Cooked The Books”

by Jim Lane Note. This is Part 3 of our series on the inside true story of KiOR. In part 1 of our series here, and part 2 here. Our story so far KiOR was hanging by a thread as the summer of 2010 commenced. In a few days, the first recorded visitors to Pasadena demo unit, representatives of the Mississippi Development Authority, were expecting to see the demonstration unit in action. The company was beginning to hurtle towards an IPO. But the fuel yields were...

KiOR: The Inside Story Of A Company Gone Wrong, Part 2

by Jim Lane Note. This is Part 2 of our series on the inside true story of KiOR. In part 1 of our series, here, we explored: the formation of BIOeCON and KiOR, the problem of too much oxygen and coke, the entry of Khosla Ventures, and the loss of a CEO. Also, “a recipe for technical failure”, disastrous pilot scale results, culture clashes, catalyst development, reactor design trouble and the departure of a key scientist. Two KiOR scientific wings emerge No one was more emphatic about the pilot plant results than scientist Robert Bartek,...